Bernards Township's auditor Robert Morrison offered another glowing annual report for the municipality, pointing out some highlights as paying off all long-term debts as of last November and creating a municipal budget in which overall spending is about $2 million less than in 2007.
"That's an incredible feat," Morrison said of the reduction in budget spending while speaking at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting. He said that reduction is unique among the municipalites for which he conducts audits in New Jersey.
Morrison, of the firm Hodulik & Morrison from Highland Park, also praised the township staff's compliance with accounting standards, budget controls and overall financial health.
He said he was pleased that Terry Johnson, who had longed worked in the township's financial department, had been promoted to Chief Financial Officer this August. The position of CFO and Township Administrator had previously been held by Bruce McArthur, who remains Township Administrator.
Splitting the two positions offers another level of financial control, Morrison said.
"The good news is I don't have anything bad to say," he told municipal officials.
However, he noted, "Your financial statements are not quite as strong as they were a year ago, although they are still very strong."
That is because the balance of unreserved funds set aside in the budget is slightly lower, about 5 percent, he said.
However, Morrison noted that is because income from sources other than local taxes — some of which McArthur noted this year are construction fees, interest income and similar sources of revenue — have dropped sharply in the period since 2008.
"I think you will see it recaptured as the economy improves," he said of such revenue.
The money set aside in the township's balance acount is largely used to offset increases in the budget, although it then is generally regenerated throughout the year, Morrison said.
However, the reduction in such other source of revenues, including a loss of certain grant monies, was the reason that the municipal portion of the local tax bill went up slightly for 2012, even though spending in the total budget was down from the previous year, according to township figures from earlier this year.
In fact, 2012 was the first year that the Township Committee broke a six-year streak of keeping the municipal tax bill on the average home at less than it was in 2005, when the municipal portion of the average property tax bill was $1,799.65.
All municipal budget accounts, including funding for the Bernards Township Library and the township's open space tax, add up to a local municipal tax bill of $1,836.11 on an average township home in 2012, which for this year is assessed at $577,393.82.
That is an increase of about $58 on the average township home from last year. During 2011, the municipal portion of the total property tax bill on the average home — last year assessed at $581,059.60 — was $1,778.04, according to township figures.
Challenge for all municipalities to keep expenses down
Morrison said Tuesday he doesn't know if the township will be able to continue to keep cutting expenses in the future, but, "You have done of a heck of a job controlling them."
Township officials praised the auditing firm's professionalism and also thanked the municipal staff for working to keep costs down.
"I think it [the auditor's report] validates our staff here, and the hard work they do," said Johnson, who was at the meeting.